Hanoi—Although he is one of the elite athletes in the world, Carlos Yulo refused to look past his opponents in the 31st Southeast Asian Games and treated the artistic gymnastics competition here like he’s competing in the Olympics.
“It’s really the Olympics that matters, so I treated this Southeast Asian Games competition like competing in the Olympics,” Yulo said on Monday night, shortly after amassing five gold and two silver medals, giving him a shot at becoming the games’ best male athlete.
The 22-year-old former world floor exercise champion and reigning world vault king added that he never underestimated his opponents here.
“I never do that. My training and approach in the competition will always be at an Olympic level,” he stressed, adding his ultimate goal is to win an Olympic gold, which could likely happen two years from now in Paris, France.
A Tokyo Olympian, Yulo dominated the men’s individual all-around last Friday and returned last Sunday to rule the floor exercise and rings. He delivered the coup de grace last Monday by topping the vault and horizontal bar, the latter in a tie with Ding Phuong Thanh of Vietnam.
“I want to win an Olympic gold medal. That’s why I treated this like an Olympic competition. This is not a small-time competition,” he reiterated.
Yulo was pleased that his national teammates also delivered and praised Fil-Am Alea Finnegan Cruz for winning the women’s vault individual title and her teammates in the Philippine women’s artistic team that pocketed the team gold.
Gymnastics proved to be a gold mine for the Philippines here with a 7-4-1 gold-silver-bronze production, the best finish by the country in recent history. In the 2019 Philippine Games, Yulo won two gold and five silver medals.
With his two silver medals in the men’s team event and parallel bars here, Yulo did better than a forgotten sports hero, another gymnast in Rolando Albuera, who won five gold medals in the 1979 Jakarta SEA Games where the Philippines won 24 gold medals and finished fourth overall, and the most recent one, swimmer Eric Buhain, the former chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission, who won five gold medals in the 1991 Manila SEA Games.
“It’s my first time to feel something like this. I’m very glad that my fellow Filipino gymnasts also won gold medals,” he said. “I’d like to thank everyone, my coach, ma’am Cynthia (Carrion-Norton, the gymnastics chief), therapist, POC (Philippine Olympic Committee) President Abraham Tolentino and the PSC (Philippine Sports Commission) led by Chairman William Ramirez for the all-out support.”
Yulo’s celebration in Hanoi was short-lived, leaving for Japan on Tuesday afternoon along with his Japanese coach, Munehiro Kugimiya, and therapist Jumpei Kunno to resume training in Tokyo for the Asian Championships on June 15 to 18 in Doha, Qatar.
“Training is a must because it’s a qualifying competition for the World Championships on October 29 to November 6 in Liverpool, England,” Yulo said, noting the Worlds is a qualifier for the Paris 2024 Summer Olympic Games.
Kugimiya shared Yulo’s sentiments, saying the ultimate prize will be an Olympic gold medal.
“We are always aiming for an Olympic gold medal. We will also compete in the Asian Championship,” Kugimiya said.
Gymnastics Association of the Philippines President Cynthia Carrion-Norton thanked Yulo and the national gymnastics team for giving their Southeast Asian neighbors “a show of a lifetime.”
Yulo is expected to collect at least P1.8 million in cash incentives from the government for his impressive feat.
“I’m planning to use it for my savings and for my future. I will invest it properly,” he said.